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His absence for the Champions Trophy is a huge blow for England and news on Kevin Pietersen's fitness is now set to dominate the next few months
April 25, 2013
Any regular spectator at Taunton in the early 1980s would be familiar with the sensation as the public address system announced: "No. 11 on your scorecard, Joel Garner, has been replaced by No. 12, Dennis Breakwell." Sighs followed. Breakwell, a slow left-arm spinner, was a worthy cricketer, but he was no replacement for Garner.
So it feels for England today. Several worthy candidates have an opportunity to take the position vacated by Kevin Pietersen in the team participating in the Champions Trophy. But none of them can truly be said to replace him.
Some will deny that. They will state, quite reasonably, that England reached No. 1 in the ODI rankings last year without Pietersen and they will state, quite reasonably, that Pietersen played in only four of England's run of 10 consecutive ODI victories last year. Pietersen's ODI record has included some significant troughs - he scored just one 50 in 24 innings between 2009 and 2011, for example - and, after his return from ODI retirement, England lost the next series he participated in, after Christmas in India. It is quite true that England can still win the Champions Trophy without him.
But it will be much harder. It was, after all, Pietersen who took the Man of the Tournament award when England clinched the only global trophy they have yet won - the World T20 in 2010 - and Pietersen who has more ODI centuries (nine) and more ODI runs (4,351) than any current England player. On the biggest stage, there is no England player more likely to revel in the spotlight, no England player more feared by the opposition and no England player as capable of changing the course of a game. His absence is a crushing blow to what had been presumed to be England's best chance to win a global ODI tournament.
It is not just about the runs, though. Pietersen's absence is a major blow to the balance of the England side. While the top three of Ian Bell, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott provide excellent stability and reassurance, their role is best complemented by Pietersen's aggression at No. 4. Pietersen's absence leaves a heavy burden on the shoulders of Eoin Morgan, in particular, and to a lesser extent Jos Buttler.
There are several candidates vying for Pietersen's place. Joe Root has shown a welcome ability to adapt his game to the match situation in his brief England career to date and is probably best placed at present, but Jonny Bairstow is among those who may also have a chance. It was Root who batted at No. 4 in the ODI series against New Zealand, when Pietersen was rested.
There is better news of England's other injury worries. Graeme Swann, almost as important a player as Pietersen in the England team, has returned to bowling in the nets and hopes to play for Nottinghamshire next week, while Tim Bresnan made an impressive return for Yorkshire in the Championship on Wednesday. The return of both players will be a relief to Ashley Giles, England's limited-overs coach, though it will not compensate for the loss of Pietersen.
To compound matters, the Champions Trophy represents a glorious opportunity for England. It is not just that they have, after many years, found a method to flourish in ODIs, it is that rule changes, such as the use of a new ball from either end, and the advantage of home conditions - playing in England and Wales in June ought to play into their hands - should also have conspired to help them. The next World Cup in England does not come until 2019.
At present, it is anticipated that Pietersen will resume training in mid-June. That leaves him little opportunity to play first-class cricket before the start of the Ashes on July 10 as the English domestic season will soon thereafter be dominated by T20 cricket.
So it may be that Pietersen's return comes against Australia. Somerset have a first-class match against the tourists starting on June 26 and, just as Andrew Strauss was drafted into the Somerset side when he required match practice ahead of the series against India, so could Pietersen be. His other options would appear to be a Championship game for Surrey against Yorkshire (starting on June 21, perhaps too early after his return to training) and a warm-up game for England against Essex starting on June 30. Pietersen, it should be noted, came so close to joining Somerset ahead of the 2005 season, he drove around in one of their sponsored cars for much of the winter. He ultimately joined Hampshire.
Either way, with Ashes fever apparently as prevalent and contagious as the recent measles outbreak, updates on Pietersen's knee may dominate the media as news of Denis Compton's did more than half-a-century ago and news of David Beckham's second metatarsal did ahead of the 2002 football World Cup.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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